GLASGOW – The United Nations (UN) climate conference COP26 kicked off on Sunday (Oct 31) in the Scottish city of Glasgow under gloomy skies.
Rain pelted the delegates waiting amid temperatures of about 7 deg C for security clearance to enter the conference venue, while others travelling from London were stranded at Euston station after a tree fell and caused damage to overhead wires.
This followed other weather-related incidents in Scotland over the past week, such as floods that stalled traffic and affected commuters.
Professor Saleemul Huq, director of the Bangladesh-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development who is in Scotland to attend the conference, told The Straits Times that he had over the past week made the 45-minute commute to Glasgow from Edinburgh, where he is staying as it is more affordable.
“I have been hit by loss and damage with cancelled and delayed trains myself and have missed several critical meetings as a result,” he said. “So climate change is causing loss and damage in Scotland even before COP26 has officially begun.”
The irretrievable loss and damage caused by climate impacts, such as loss of life and damage to infrastructure, is one of the key issues that will be discussed during the conference.
Poorer nations are seeking additional finance to cope with the rising and repeated costs of climate change, while industrialised countries are wary of liability risks and compensation claims.
The Straits Times highlights other key takeaways from Day 1 of the two-week conference in Carbon Copy, an online newsletter on COP26 happenings.
1. COP26 kicks off with words of warning, some optimism
The conference kicked off with speeches from UN officials and the past and present presidents of the conference.
UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa warned that every day that goes by without the implementation of the Paris Agreement is a day wasted. This would have repercussions for people, especially the most vulnerable, she warns.
In 2015, almost 200 nations adopted the Paris Agreement, which set out goals for limiting global warming, but not how they could be achieved.
After three years of negotiations, nations agreed in 2018 to adopt the Paris Rulebook – a guide on how the agreement can be implemented – at COP24 in Poland. The COP26 meeting aims to finalise the details of this implementation.
COP26 president Alok Sharma also expressed some optimism at the opening, saying: “I believe that we can resolve the outstanding issues, that we can move the negotiations forward, and launch a decade of increasing ambition and action… But we need to hit the ground running.”
2. Singapore representation and the voice of local youth
Singapore will be represented at COP26 by a contingent of government officials, business leaders, academics and young activists.
Ms Grace Fu, Minister of Sustainability and the Environment, will deliver Singapore’s national statement next week, as well as co-facilitate ministerial negotiations on carbon markets and hold bilateral meetings with her ministerial counterparts.
Meanwhile, Ms Cheryl Lee and Ms Swati Mandloi, both 26 and members of non-governmental group Singapore Youth for Climate Action, talked to The Straits Times in Glasgow about their plans to keep youths in Singapore updated on the progress of the negotiations, and why it is important for young people back home to keep abreast of the discussions.
3. A Covid-19 conference
Delegates held a minute’s silence to mark the devastating losses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic during the opening of the conference, which is also imposing strict regulations on participants.
These include daily testing using antigen rapid test kits, and the mandatory wearing of face masks inside the conference venue.
International delegates also had to do a self-administered polymerase chain reaction test within 48 hours of arriving in Britain.
Hand sanitisers and reminders to keep a safe distance from others are located all around the venue, and delegates were issued a hygiene kit of a small bottle of hand sanitiser, a mask, and a packet of wet wipes.
4. Attempts at sustainability
Large-scale conferences, which generate huge amounts of waste, are not known for being environmentally-friendly.
But COP26 host Britain has attempted to walk the talk at this event, with many sustainability features.
This includes menus that list the carbon footprint of each item, offering many plant-based food options for delegates, and coffee and other hot drinks served in re-useable cups. Delegates are urged to return each cup to return stations dotting the venue so they can be washed and re-used.
Certain bathrooms have posted signs that there is no hot water and some rooms are not being over-heated – including the media centre. Many delegates were seen wearing their coats around the venue instead of leaving them at coat check.
5. The Association of Small Island States (Aosis) urges greater climate ambition from developed countries, citing disproportionate risks to their people
Aosis represents the interests of the 39 small island and low-lying coastal developing states – including Singapore – at international climate change and sustainable development negotiations and processes.
In a statement on Sunday, Aosis lead negotiator Lia Nicholson urged all countries to set bolder climate pledges so the world has a greater chance of limiting warming to 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels.
This threshold will help keep harsher climate impact at bay, climate scientists say. The repercussions – such as heat waves, extreme sea level and weather events – get worse for every degree of warming.
Ms Nicholson said Aosis is committed to completing outstanding items under the Paris Rulebook and transitioning into “full implementation mode”.
“But do not mistake our urgency for expediency,” she warned, saying that Aosis expected outcomes that emphasised the importance of urgent, short-term climate action.
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